Secretary of State Colin Powell
Interview on CBS Morning Show
Washington, D.C.
September 12, 2001

SECRETARY POWELL: The first thing I'm doing this morning, Bryant, is, one, making sure that all our embassies around the world are safe and taking necessary precautionary actions. We have about 25 percent of our embassies on suspended operation. But they will all be coming back up in the course of the day, I'm quite sure.

Next, the President has directed me to work with international organizations and our friends around the world to make the point that this is an assault against the civilized world -- not just against the United States -- and to mobilize them to respond to this assault: diplomatically, militarily, with police actions, intelligence actions -- and to make sure that those nations, as the President said last night, who might be harboring or providing comfort to these kinds of terrorist organizations understand that we will be holding them accountable. And once this trail leads us to who is responsible, if there are nations that bear responsibility in that regard for hosting them, then we will be doing something about that, as well.

QUESTION: We heard the President's words last night. I don't expect a specific timetable. But in general terms, how quickly can or will we respond?

SECRETARY POWELL: We'll respond as soon as we can. And in the diplomatic sense --

QUESTION: Are we talking weeks? Are we talking months?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we just don't know, Bryant. And it wouldn't be -- I don't think it would proper for me to speculate without knowing exactly who the perpetrators are and whether there is something to respond to.

Diplomatically and in other ways, we can respond immediately. And I've been on the phone already with Kofi Annan at the UN, with Lord Robertson at NATO and with Javier Solana at the European Union to get an international response to this -- condemnation, consideration of other actions that the international community might take.

Now, that just might sound like diplomatic speak, but it's important diplomatic speak because we want the entire world to come down and not only condemn this kind of activity, but together -- united -- to go after those who continue to believe that by killing innocent civilians they can achieve political purposes. That has to be the response of the international community to kill that idea and root these organizations up once and for all.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, besides being a diplomat, you're also a military man. You know the topography. You know the landscape both diplomatic and otherwise. How realistic is it to think we could track down the individuals who did this?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think it is realistic. I think we have demonstrated in the past our ability to find people who have committed these sorts of terrorist acts. We have very, very confident people who know how to follow leads. Sometimes it takes a few weeks. Sometimes it takes years. But we won't give up. We will find them. And they will be dealt with.

QUESTION: The question being asked often this morning, Mr. Secretary, is this, that ours is the most sophisticated defense system in the entire world, certainly the most expensive, to that question of how could we not have seen this coming, what do you say?

SECRETARY POWELL: I say that we do have the best intelligence system. We have the best military on the face of the Earth. But as has been demonstrated many times in the past, if you are a determined enemy and if you are prepared to go after soft targets, and if you are -- you are prepared to do it in ways that are rather different from anything we've seen before, unless we get something that cues us, something that gives us some indication that this kind of asymmetric attack is coming, we are always at risk. We can't defend against every single possibility short of shutting ourselves up into some kind of blockhouse. We're an open society. And so we have thwarted many terrorist attacks over the years. And some have been successful. But I can assure you that we have competent people working on this. We do have the best people working on it. But it is impossible to stop every potential attack that is coming our way.

QUESTION: Understood. Final note, are we at war, Mr. Secretary?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think the American people are not confused about the legalisms of this. When you saw those scenes coming out of New York and Washington today, the American people made a judgment, we are at war. And they want a comprehensive response. They want us to act as if we are at war. And we are going to do that -- diplomatically, militarily, picking options that will respond to this, searching out those who are responsible, and those who harbor them.

And so as we go through the legalisms of all this and determine how to respond in the international community, the American people know what they saw yesterday and what they believe they saw, clearly, was an act of war. Not only against America but against the international community -- the community of peace. But they didn't hurt our spirit. They didn’t hurt our resilience as a society. And we'll come back -- we'll come back firmly. We are still very much intact as a society, as a nation. And we know how to respond.

QUESTION: Secretary of State Colin Powell, you're a busy man. Thank you for spending some time. I appreciate it.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you, Bryant.